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Moneyball Browns on a New Track in 2016

Let me preface this by saying, I know a lot of Browns’ fans so I’m allowed to say the things I’m about to say.

That said, if you came here for jokes like: “How do you keep a Cleveland Brown out of your yard?  Put up goalposts,” then you came to the wrong place. I like to pick on the Browns as much as the next guy but at some point, enough is enough. I am legitimately starting to feel bad for fans of this franchise who have seen 24 different starting quarterbacks since 1999 and I am having a hard time believing Robert Griffin III is the QB of the future.

There is an optimistic view to take here, though. Cleveland’s ownership cleaned house after the 2015 season and brought in a whole new front office including chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta. DePodesta is famous for introducing his Harvard-inspired analytical tactics to baseball through his role with Billy Beane’s Moneyball Oakland Athletics. By all accounts, the Browns had an excellent draft where they addressed many of their countless needs and for once, the future looks bright.

Analytics have never been heavily relied on by pro football teams so it will be interesting to see if the numbers add up for the Browns in 2016.

Here are some of their odds for the upcoming season:

Super Bowl +20000 and AFC Championship +5000

Again, not trying to be mean here, but I have better things to do with my day than to talk about the merits of the Cleveland Browns as Super Bowl or conference championship contenders – sorry.

AFC North +1200

Outside of the Steelers, I don’t like any teams in this division. I expect the Bengals and Ravens to regress and expect the Browns to be the Browns. Many are touting Pittsburgh as a Super Bowl contender and I have a hard time disagreeing with them.

If the Browns keep making smart football moves, they have a chance to overtake Cincinnati and Baltimore as the second-best team in the AFC North. That, however, is at least a season away and I 100% expect Cleveland to finish last in the division again this year.

Win Total OVER/UNDER 4.5

Despite everything going against the Browns this season, they are definitely trending in the right direction organizationally. Five wins is an attainable number for this club but I can’t see them earning more than six.

Cleveland has a middle of the road schedule in terms of how difficult it is based on last year’s records but this team has a shot at having the worst defense in the league if cornerback Joe Haden doesn’t get back into the form he showed prior to last season. The front seven is going to be largely made up of rookies and second-year players who are for the most part unproven.

Things could go south in a hurry for this AFC North team if the rookies they drafted don’t pan out in their starting roles.

Which team will finish with the worst record +400

You never want to sleep on the Browns to finish the season in last but I think teams like San Francisco, Tennessee and LA are getting off too easy. +1400 for the Rams to finish with the worst record is excellent value that I don’t think should be ignored.

The trend I looked at when examining this prop was how the Browns have rebounded after a bad season. What I found is that since 2000, the Browns have only had their record get worse in consecutive years one time. This is important because the worst record in the league has been 2-14 or worse in all but two years since the start of the millennium. If the Moneyball Browns improve by at least one win this season, which they’ve done seven times in eight opportunities, it is very unlikely they end up with the worst record.

The Browns were one of the best-run blocking teams in the NFL last year that produced an excellent rookie season from running back Duke Johnson. The Johnson and Isaiah Crowell backfield tandem this year could produce results similar to what Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have in the past as former Bengals’ offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is now calling the shots on the Browns sideline. If that happens, it should open up the play-action for the offense and give Robert Griffin ample opportunity to prove his dynamic athletic ability.

If Cleveland’s defense isn’t truly awful they shouldn’t be the worst team in the league and I don’t see value in the +400 odds being offered by Bovada – how’s that for positivity? Additionally, the AFC North has only produced the worst team in the league twice since 2000 – the other team being the 2002 Bengals.

Here’s to hoping things in Believeland don’t go from Browns to worse this season.

2016 Cleveland Browns Futures Odds
Super Bowl+20000
AFC Championship+5000
AFC North+1200
Win Totals 4.5

Odds as of September 1 at Bovada